Nicklas Backstrom had his golden chance — the puck bouncing to him around the crease and plenty of net to shoot at. He couldn’t bury it, and the frustration continued.
The Capitals want the puck on Backstrom’s stick in key situations. Backstrom feels the same way. But lately the No. 1 center hasn’t been able to produce.
“Of course it’s bugging me, and it’s a little frustrating,” Backstrom said Saturday, “but in the same time you can’t really do anything else and just keep working hard and try and go to the net and create other chances.”
Backstrom’s scoring drought is now 14 games — the first six in the playoffs and the final eight in the regular season. He has now gone nine straight playoff games without a goal. All playoffs he has just one assist.
Yet his teammates and coach don’t think he’s playing poorly all around.
“I think you take the scoring away and he’s doing a really good job,” Bruce Boudreau said. “But I think he’s squeezing the stick pretty tight. He wants to do really well. He doesn’t give the puck away or anything like that. I think he’s trying to be too cute and make the perfect play. And it’s taking a toll on his scoring.”
If a guy like Marco Sturm (one goal in 24 games with Washington) doesn’t put the puck in the net, there’s no cause for alarm; the Caps aren’t expecting as much from Sturm.
But there’s certainly pressure on Backstrom, who is considered at minimum the Caps’ No. 3 offensive option. He is signed through the 2019-20 season at a cap hit of $6.7 million. He gets paid the big bucks to ignite the red light behind the goal.
“Nick’s a confident player, he’s a great player,” right wing Mike Knuble said. “Every team he’s been on probably his whole life he’s been the man and been the No. 1 guy. Obviously the pressure of the NHL playoffs is a little bit more, but he’s trained for it.”
A couple years ago if Backstrom fell into this kind of slump, it might not be as detrimental to the Caps. But there are high expectations on him as a leader and top-line center, and he wants them.
“Yeah, absolutely and it should be too, and I put high expectation on myself,” Backstrom said. “I don’t really read what the media say but I have high expectations of myself and I should be the leading [guy] and produce.”
Backstrom has been a mentor of sorts for third-line center Marcus Johansson, but the 20-year-old protégé has outshone the 23-year-old star in these playoffs. Still, don’t expect Johansson to even admit that Backstrom is having a tough time.
“Maybe he hasn’t scored as many points as he did last year, but I still think he’s one of our best players every game,” Johansson said. “He’s doing the right things all the time and he’s creating space for his linemates and for his teammates all the time.”
Backstrom is trying to ramp up his game on the penalty kill and other aspects to compensate for the scoring. Boudreau can relate.
“As a guy that took a lot of pride in his offensive game I knew when things weren’t going right for me it was always because I was trying to be too great or too cute or not shooting the puck enough,” the coach said. “And I think when things don’t go right you just got to get back to the basics.”
The Caps would love basic Backstrom to show up, because that would likely mean at least a couple goals this series and a handful of assists.
What his teammates and coach aren’t worried about is Backstrom’s effort.
“You never worry about Nicky because he’s always prepared to play,” forward Matt Bradley said. “And even if he’s not scoring he’s always doing something positive for the team.”
Now Backstrom wants to get back to making a positive impact on the scoreboard.